We regularly receive project plans with Gant charts in PowerPoint from our customers and partners. And we are not alone in this. PowerPoint is the standard tool for all kinds of project presentations, from proposals to status reports.
Unfortunately, graphing project plans in PowerPoint is tedious and annoying. You keep trying until the result looks somewhat acceptable. The trick is to get the plan onto one page. And when the next change in the plan no longer fits on the slide, you spend a lot of time rescaling and moving.
The whole thing is an optimization problem. The slides should be easy to read and look appealing – not too full, but not too empty either. You can vary the sizes of the elements, the arrangement, the time scale and the number of slides. Additional constraints result from the desired layout for the project plan.
The problem was as if created for us. Project plans can be created effortlessly in decídalo in an intuitive web frontend. The generation of PowerPoint documents for consultant CVs and reference presentations has always been a core component of decídalo. Optimization plays an important role in resource management and is also the hobbyhorse of DAS Research. With GENO, our colleagues have developed a powerful, generic optimizer.
So it was obvious to combine the three topics – initially as a research side project. It quickly became clear that this was not a purely technical-mathematical task. The generated slides should look visually appealing. But how do you translate that into boundary conditions for an optimization problem? Only experiments helped here, because as Richard Feynman already said: “The test of all knowledge is experiment”.
The effort was worth it. The PowerPoint project plans generated at the push of a button are in no way inferior to their manually prepared models. On the contrary – the quality of the latter typically decreases with each change, as adjustments are simply too tedious.